One fun fact: if you plan to live to 120, you do not have to be middle-aged until you are 60. Even so, most of us have entered or are getting close to the second half of our lives. With more time behind us than in front of us, prioritization is becoming more important, and what is important changes through the cycles of our lives.
In my twenties, I took a year off from studies and work to stay home and look after my two sons, an infant, and a toddler. Children were the priority then, but closely behind being a good mother came being a good housewife. At home with the kids all day, I filled my time with housework. Monday I did laundry, Tuesday I cleaned the downstairs, Wednesday I cleaned the upstairs, Thursday I shopped, and Friday I cooked. I was proud of my housekeeping.
The following year, I started graduate school, commuting through good Ontario winters. Suddenly there was no time to spend most of all day every day doing housework. That was when I learned one very useful question to ask when establishing prioritization. Will it matter in ten years? Whether I passed or failed my studies would matter. How I raised my kids and treated my husband would matter, but no one in ten years would care whether every supporting post on the staircase railing got polished every week. What used to take all week could be done in a few hours, and my house would still be clean and safe enough for my family and presentable enough for my friends.
This phase in my life was gratifying because I was able to let go of some of the everyday tasks that had taken up all of my time. It’s truly freeing to find that what seemed so important just a year before (are the baseboards clean?) had become secondary to other obligations. I found more time for fun with family and self-focus and spent less time working on the little details. This shift in prioritization was quite freeing in a lot of ways.
Prioritization at work also changes over time. In younger adulthood, such priorities are primary. There are careers, reputations, and an income base to establish. The focus is on ambition and who you are or can become in the business or professional world. I have been there and done that; so did most of my friends and colleagues. Then I started noticing some changes.
Instead of centering on the buttoned-up, businesslike downtown world, my friends started talking about things like grandchildren. I had trouble relating, not only because I did not have grandchildren, but because wasn’t a career the be-all and end-all? Well, no. Past a certain point, expecting your career to be the main focus of your life ten years down the road is not always realistic, and embracing that change and the evolution that comes with it is the key to moving out of career mode and into life-outside-the-office mode.
However, little grandchildren in ten years will be turning into independent adolescents. Then, they will no longer be so delighted to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa. Make them a priority now.
Our own health and well-being become ever more important as time rolls on. It’s best to pay attention to it now so that we will be able to enjoy all our future priorities, whether they be a career, family, community service, or traveling the world. A few simple habits like eating more veggies or moving more will get you there. Staying active in your early to middle ages will pay off in spades later on down the road. When you become an empty nester, you’ll appreciate the ability to enjoy retirement and stay active.
You’ll eventually hit the point where you aren’t tied down to everyday responsibilities like work and running around your kids to each and every activity. You’ll be free to travel and pursue other passions. This is a stage in life where all the hard work you did – all the studying, and laundry, and cleaning, and child-rearing – pays off. You can simply enjoy life and all that it has to offer.
Finally, there comes a time in our lives when the ten-year rule no longer makes sense. We see our parents age and eventually pass on. We note, usually with horror, that other family members, friends, and colleagues—some even younger than we are—lose their abilities or even their lives. Finally, facing the fact that we do not have an infinite life span, it is time for a new priority. Make today count.